Give me black!

Though not as popular as its colourless version, black vodka can jazz up your cocktail, in taste and tint

November 02, 2012 09:18 pm | Updated November 13, 2021 10:22 am IST - NEW DELHI

The power of black: Vijay Purty, bartender of  Aura at The Claridges, New Delhi. Photo: V.V. Krishnan

The power of black: Vijay Purty, bartender of Aura at The Claridges, New Delhi. Photo: V.V. Krishnan

Let me begin with a fact of life. I am talking about how we relate to colours, how they shape our perception. Most of the times.

Many summers ago, I chanced upon a bottle of Blavod, the premium black vodka from the U.K., at a duty-free outlet in Changi airport, Singapore. Even though I had heard about its singularity in the drinks market, I placed it back on the ledge, failing to come to a conclusion on how best to drink it, what to add to it to craft a drink I would like to hold in my hand. After all, it was black in colour and looked so different from its colourless version. The amateur cocktail maker in me was unsure how it will come out eventually, what statement will it make after all.

Later, on thinking about what fleshed that thought in me, I felt like a fool and equated myself to a bhadralok I came across years ago in my house. On serving him a glass of Rooh Afza he told me, “I don’t take the red drinks. I am a teetotaller.”

Perceptions aside, black vodka can do what its colourless cousin can’t. It has a robustness, a woody taste, that can add a distinct personality to a drink. The colour comes from catechu, a herbal extract from Uncaria Gambier trees, found in Asia. This extract adds to the vodka a black-violet hue and a notable herbal finish not found in the non-coloured vodka. I hear that there are a few black vodkas in the world market but Blavod, to the greater part of the world, is almost synonymous with black vodka.

In Delhi, not too many bars stock Blavod. So to help me whip up a few cocktails made of black vodka I go to Aura at The Claridges, the only vodka bar in the city. Bartender Vijay Purty shows me its menu card which mentions 72 varieties of vodkas sourced from across the world. “Besides, we have four or five new vodkas which have come to us after the menu has been printed,” says Vijay. Aura has 65 cocktails based on vodka, “all thought up by the bartenders.”

So I am at the right place then, and Vijay is all set to make for me three cocktails. He begins with a simple mix. In a rock glass, he tumbles in lots of ice cubes and then throw in a few thin slices of lemon. Two tsp or 15 ml of lime juice goes into it before he stirs the concoction a bit. Then, half the glass is filled with tonic water (about 100 ml). On top, he slowly layers the drink with black vodka (Blavod, 60 ml). Though Vijay calls it a simple cocktail, the look it throws up is certainly singular and the taste, very herby with a hint of clove and anise.

Vijay calls the next cocktail Cream Ocean. He uses the leggy margarita glass for it, pre-chilled. In a cocktail shaker, he drops the white of one egg and two teaspoons of sugar syrup, gives it a dry shake “to make it creamy.” He fills half of a 60 ml shot glass with Amarula liqueur, the other half with black vodka. He empties the glass into the shaker, few ice cubes are dropped in it and gives a hard shake. The concoction is then strained into the margarita glass. A few drops of Angostura bitters are sprinkled on top to add flavour. And also the juice of a strip of orange peel. He shoved in half of the peel into the drink as garnish. The beige look of the drink matches so well with the bright orange of the peel. One sip and a riot of flavours happen in my mouth. “It is a great combination of flavours and creamy texture,” remarks Vijay.

The third drink that he crafts for me is yet to be named. “I thought it up only last evening,” he says. In a shaker, he throws in ice cubes, slivers of lemon peel, 15 ml lime juice and 10 ml sugar syrup — “to get the sweet and sour balance”. Then he pulls out a bottle of Gold Wasser, a premium white vodka from Poland that comes with bits of gold flakes in it. Thirty ml of it goes into the shaker plus another 30 ml of Blavod. “This is a stirred drink,” he says before giving the mix a vigorous stir.

The mix is then poured into a chilled martini glass. A black olive is slipped into the drink even as the gold flakes bob about, granting it a pleasing look. Though I liked the other two cocktails, this one won my heart. What a singular taste! The drink is not in Aura’s menu but next time you are there, do ask Vijay to make one for you. I assure you, you will have zero regret.

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